Sunday, 8 November 2020

Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix ★★☆☆☆

Kart racers are more often than not, a good time for everyone. Easy for even the most novice gamer to pick up, there’s a reason that they’ve been a staple of each console generation since the early 90s. That makes them a great template for transposing established IPs into the world of video games. From Star Wars to the goddamn WWE, you’d be hard-pressed to find a major property that hasn’t been given the kart treatment.

The colourful cast of Nickelodeon are no exception, who had a couple of starring roles in racing games since the early 2000s, most recently with the 2018 stinker Nickelodeon Kart Racers. Not only did it suffer from an embarrassing lack of content, but it also made the mistake of launching on the same week as Red Dead Redemption 2. I wonder which game got all the headlines? Yet everyone deserves a second chance, and the series is looking to make full use of theirs with the release of Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix. Does it do enough to redeem its predecessor? Read on to find out…

Thankfully, there’s a lot more content on offer this time around. Whereas the first game was limited to 10 playable racers, the sequel has 30 on offer, including characters from Avatar, Hey Arnold!, Spongebob and more. While it’s naturally a massive plus to have a much deeper roster, what’s perhaps even more impressive is how each racer feels unique. Every character has unique stats including top speed, steering and drift capabilities, which isn’t uncommon in kart racers, however, it’s clear a lot of effort went into making these ratings reflect the racer. The rocket-powered Invader Zim has good acceleration, whereas the more timid Chuckie from Rugrats might not be so hard on the gas pedal, but compensates with expert handling. It’s a small detail that goes a long way to make the game feel more authentic towards its cartoon counterparts. 

Unfortunately, that’s where the positive words we have for this game end. While the physical character design is good, there’s no real dialogue at all, with every racer disturbingly silent. It’s almost as if they didn’t have the rights to use any licensed audio, as the music that makes shows like Spongebob Squarepants so memorable is omitted in place of painfully generic tracks. We ended up playing the whole game on mute, as it all got painfully irritating after a while.

Broadly speaking, the level designs are equally uninspired. A few have a couple of fun nods to the shows that inspired them, but many are simply bland and unimaginative, and once you get to the final lap we wouldn’t blame you if you felt dreadfully bored. You could argue that aesthetics aren’t as important as gameplay, but when top franchises like Crash Team Racing and Mario Kart can manage to have an interesting art style as well as solid mechanics, there really isn’t any excuse not to.

And speaking of Mario Kart, we couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a complete rip off of the king of kart racers. Each course has coins that give you a speed boost as you collect them, there are comparable weapons to those in MK and even the Grand Prix format is painfully derivative. However, to be fair, there are worse games to try to emulate than Mario Kart. The only thing is, Nickelodeon Kart Racers doesn’t do it very well. The controls don’t feel responsive at all, with drifting and momentum feeling rough compared to other kart racers. When these mechanics are vital for getting the best lap times, it becomes hugely frustrating after a while. It’s not unplayable, it just comes off like the ‘Tesco Value’ version of a better game.

To wrap up, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix has to be considered a disappointment. The extra content does make it more enticing than its predecessor, however lacklustre gameplay and a lack of authentic audio leaves it feeling boring and sterile. If you’re a big fan of Nickelodeon it might be worth a look, but when Crash Team Racing and Mario Kart are available, it’s a hard sell.

Tom Baker

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